Willie Randolph: I was surprised by firing

Pitching coach Rick Peterson and first base coach Tom Nieto also were dismissed
June 18, 2008 5:36:07 AM PDT
The Mets General Manager, Omar Minaya made his move, firing manager Willie Randolph while the team was on the road. Despite a losing season, Randolph said he was stunned and surprisded."I don't have much to say, really," Randolph said roughly nine hours after he was fired by GM Omar Minaya. "I'm just very disappointed that I'm not going to be able to fulfill what my dream is, which is to come here and help this team win a world championship. I'm just going to miss my players. To the fans, I'm really sorry that I wasn't able to fulfill what I really said I wanted to do here - get this team to a world championship. That's what I've always been about. It's very, very difficult right now, but I'm ready to move on," Randolph said as he left Angel Stadium.

With the Mets below .500 and still wobbling from last year's colossal collapse, rumors about Randolph's status built to a crescendo over the weekend. Minaya said the tension went on "far too long."

"It was not fair to the team, it was not fair to Willie Randolph, it was not fair to the organization," Minaya said, several hours before the Mets played the Los Angeles Angels.

Bench coach Jerry Manuel was promoted to manage the Mets and will stay in that position for the rest of the year.

"I'm really stunned by it," Randolph said as he left the team hotel shortly before noon. "I was surprised by it."

Minaya said he made the decision Monday and stressed it was his alone. He met with Randolph at the Mets' team hotel after that night's 9-6 win over the Angels.

"I think he was resigned to it. When all is said and done, I think he was relieved," Minaya said.

Minaya said it would have been disrespectful to fire a manager while he was still in uniform. Instead, Minaya said he waited to talk to Randolph away from the ballpark.

"11 p.m. at night, after a game ... standard procedure in letting a manager go in this game," he said.

At 34-35, the Mets never found any consistency.

"Is it Willie only? No, it's us," Minaya said. "I can't replace 25 players. And the players care. The players give 100 percent."

"It just wasn't working," he said. "I think the players were pressing."

Randolph became the first manager in the majors to get fired this season, a move the Mets released in an e-mail around 12:15 a.m. PDT Tuesday.

"Right now, I think we are somewhat underperforming," Manuel said. "I think we need to freshen up our everyday players."

Minaya said he could've made the decision to fire Randolph after last year ended, but wanted to bring him back. Minaya was the one who originally hired Randolph.

Pitching coach Rick Peterson and first base coach Tom Nieto also were fired in an enormous overhaul.

Randolph led the Mets to within one win of the 2006 World Series. They got off to a strong start again last year but plummeted down the stretch and were unable to rebound.

A preseason favorite to win the NL pennant, the $138 million Mets had won two in a row when Randolph was dismissed. He was set to earn $2 million this season and is owed $2.25 million in 2009, when the Mets move into new Citi Field.

Randolph said he was sorry he wasn't able to "fulfill my what my dream is, to come here and help this team win a world championship."

Peterson said Mets management "welcomed me into their home and homes go through renovations.

"I'm the hardwood floor that's getting ripped out and they're going to replace it with Tuscany tile," he said.

"This is a team that's underachieved and it will get back on track," he said. "I walk out in peace."

Ken Oberkfell, the club's manager at Triple-A New Orleans, and Dan Warthen, pitching coach for the Zephyrs, will join the major league staff along with Luis Aguayo, a Mets field coordinator.

It was a frustrating end for the 53-year-old Randolph, who was set to be an NL coach at the All-Star game at Yankee Stadium next month.

Yankees co-chairman Hal Steinbrenner, at a promotional event Tuesday for the All-Star festivities, was asked whether the team might rehire Randolph - even in an honorary capacity - to let him take part.

"Willie's been a Yankee for a lot of years. He's a smart man.

We need to let all the dust settle and see what happens, and we'll go from there," Steinbrenner said.

"Anything's a possibility," he said.

The 54-year-old Manuel takes over a squad that still has playoff aspirations. He's had success before, too.

Quiet and confident, Manuel managed the Chicago White Sox from 1998-2003, winning AL Manager of the Year in 2000 after guiding his club to the league's best record (95-67).

He steps in for Randolph, known for his exceptionally steady play as a six-time All-Star second baseman and even-keel demeanor as a longtime coach with the Yankees.

Yet Randolph's time in charge of the Mets was marked by highs and lows from the get-go.

Hired by Minaya to replace Art Howe for the 2005 season, Randolph lost his first five games as a major league manager, then won the next six.

He nearly guided the Mets into the 2006 World Series, losing Game 7 of the NLCS to St. Louis on Yadier Molina's tiebreaking home run in the ninth inning.

The Mets and their fans were convinced 2007 would be their year.

Poised for a big run, what followed was one of the biggest collapses in baseball history: Leading the NL East by seven games on Sept. 12, they lost 12 of their last 17 and missed the playoffs as Philadelphia rallied to win the division title.

Several times, Randolph tried to separate last season's failure and this season's struggle.

"I really felt we put last year behind us," he said last month. "No one ever talks about it, no one ever brings it up, so if we are looking a little like we were last year, there's no correlation."

Many Mets watchers, however, felt there was a carry-over effect.

Injuries to Pedro Martinez, Moises Alou and Ryan Church, another down year by Carlos Delgado and a sudden slump by closer Billy Wagner didn't help.

With each stretch of inconsistent play, chants of "Fire Willie!" grew louder at Shea Stadium and on New York's sports talk radio station.

Despite the offseason addition of ace pitcher Johan Santana, the Mets never found their groove. Even when things briefly went their way, Randolph caused trouble.

Coming off a two-game sweep at Yankee Stadium in mid-May, the first black manager in New York baseball history created a stir by suggesting in a newspaper interview that he was portrayed on Mets broadcasts differently than a white manager might be.

Randolph brought up the race issue as he detailed the way he's been shown by SNY, the team's TV network.

"Is it racial?" Randolph was quoted. "Huh? It smells a little bit. ... I don't know how to put my finger on it, but I think there's something there."

A couple of days later, Randolph apologized to Mets ownership, SNY and his players "for the unnecessary distraction" he'd created.

Late last month, Randolph got a temporary reprieve when he met with ownership.

"Willie's job was never in danger going into this meeting," Minaya said after the session. "Willie has my support. He has the support of our ownership. ... There is no limbo period. Willie is the manager."

But no promises for the future were made.